Parking downtown: Tickets cause controversy in Waynesville

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Parking for free

Public parking for as long as you want in downtown Waynesville:

• There are two lots beside each other, one between Main and Montgomery streets and the second between Montgomery and Haywood streets.

• All along Wall Street

• Branner Avenue parking deck

• Beside the railroad tracks in Frog Level

The question of where to park is a constant battle in small tourist downtowns with limited space and lots of visitors. Recently, Waynesville has started to strictly enforce its parking regulations by ticketing vehicle owners, leaving some wondering why regulations that have been lax for years are now being enforced.

As it turns out, the decision to enforce parking ordinances is not as sudden as many think. According to Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, his department received requests several years ago from the Downtown Waynesville Association and various merchants to enforce the regulations, particularly in the downtown area.

DWA Executive Director Buffy Messer said that request was only made after other attempts to remedy the situation — primarily through dialogue — failed.

The issue is complicated by the feeling among some business owners that too many downtown employees use Main Street for parking while they are at work. This monopolizes the available spaces and deters customers from shopping downtown, some say.


Overdue ticket equals bad credit

Though downtown parking ordinances have been in place for years, Hollingsed explained that in the past the law was worded so that tickets had to be written by a sworn police officer. This means regular patrol officers had to be taken off their beats to spend time writing parking tickets.

“When you prioritize calls for service, unfortunately overtime parking wasn’t high in priority,” Hollingsed said.

This past year, the police department requested that the Board of Aldermen change the parking ordinance from a criminal to a civil offense. The police department could then hire civilians to issue tickets, and the ticket can now be paid at the town hall offices rather than through District Court. If the ticket is not paid, the violator will be contacted by a collections agency and the overdue payment will be noted on their credit — rather than criminal — record.

The police department has since hired two part-time employees to monitor parking and issue tickets in the downtown area. As of last week, 119 tickets have been written in 2007, most in the past two months. Money from the citations goes into the town’s general fund.

Now that tourist season has rolled around, more tickets are being issued.

“There are more and more cars,” Hollingsed explained, which is why people may see more citations being written.


Opinions mixed

The parking regulations are straightforward — anyone parking in the areas of Main, Miller, Montgomery or Depot streets for more than three hours will receive a $5 ticket. Other parking rules, such as parking on the curb, are also being enforced more stringently with a $10 penalty.

Downtown business owners apparently have mixed opinions on the newly enforced ticketing practices. Some merchants harbor doubts about whether three hours gives people enough time to enjoy the downtown area.

“I don’t think we should have tickets. Tourists who come like to spend all day on the street. I think it would deter them from coming downtown and spending all day,” Osondu Books owner Margaret Osondu said.

An author Osondu had invited to a book signing at her store received a ticket, an experience she describes as “very unsettling — they were not happy.”

Johnnie Curé of Southern Exposure Realty agreed that “there’s not enough time in three hours for visitors on Main Street to shop on both sides of the street and eat.”

She also added that it takes her more than three hours to show clients around any of her properties, so their vehicle could be parked in front of her Main Street location for longer than three hours.

Curé also questioned whether hiring two part-time attendants to enforce the policy was cost efficient on the part of the town.

However, Town Alderman Gavin A. Brown explained that the attendants who have been hired by the town are actually cadets of the Town of Waynesville Police Department, so, indirectly, the funds collected from parking tickets do benefit the town.

Additional complaints from area businesses range from difficulty in paying the ticket (only cash and checks are accepted and a copy of the ticket must be provided at the time of payment) to the lack of signs directing employees and visitors to free parking areas.

Hollingsed has also heard locals speculate that they are being unfairly targeted for parking tickets — all but one of the complaints he has received are from local drivers. He says that is not the case.

“We can’t differentiate between local and out of state. Citations are being issued uniformly — there’s no preferential treatment. It’s the same for everybody,” said Hollingsed


Customers vs. workers

Not everyone’s complaining about the recent parking enforcement.

“It’s a good thing as far as to keep turnover ratio going,” Textures manager Chris Collier said.

Collier also said he doesn’t think employees should be allowed to park on the street, which was one of the principal reasons for the implementation of the ticketing system.

Bob Lang, owner of The Kitchen Shop on Main Street, agreed the parking tickets will be “a real deterrent for merchants downtown to stop parking in the street.”

“We can’t do anything more to discourage people from shopping here,” he said, referring to the difficulty in finding a Main Street parking spot when employees and merchants take up spaces on the street while they are working.


Finding a solution

Everyone involved with the issue seems to agree on one thing — there’s no simple solution to the parking shortage.

The complexity of the parking issue is evident in the mixed opinions of business owners, all of whom depend on the availability of parking to help their businesses succeed. Even though merchants with the Downtown Waynesville Association specifically asked for the enforcement of parking, some are not happy with the ticketing.

“It’s just a constant battle,” said alderman Brown. “Employees insist on parking on Main Street and taking away valuable space from visitors and people who are spending money.”

But Messer is hopeful. “Everybody working together can resolve this,” she said.

She wishes more people would take advantage of the more than 200 free parking spaces located near Main Street provided by the town. Also, many visitors don’t know about the free Branner Avenue parking deck constructed by the town and county just last year. Maps can be found around downtown Waynesville detailing free parking locations.

For now, it doesn’t look like ticketing will stop anytime soon.

“Whatever’s legislated by the aldermen and state, we’re going to enforce it,” Hollingsed assured.

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